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Are you safe accessing public Wi-Fi? If you're not using any additional cybersecurity tools, the answer is probably no. While public Wi-Fi can be incredibly convenient, connecting to the internet in a café or an airport could put you at the mercy of ruthless cybercriminals. But can a virtual private network protect you on public Wi-Fi?
Dec 10, 2021 · 6 min read
Public Wi-Fi networks are the perfect targets for hackers – most lack even basic network security measures, and some may have actually been set up by cybercriminals in the first place. If you want to enjoy the convenience of free public Wi-Fi without putting yourself at risk, you need a VPN.
A VPN is one of the most robust and secure methods you can use to protect your devices – it was practically made for use with public Wi-Fi.
It sends your traffic through an encrypted ‘tunnel’, making it extremely difficult to decipher or intercept. Having an app on the devices you use to connect to a public network will provide you with this encryption on-the-go. We always recommend using a VPN on free public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Public Wi-Fi networks offer hackers a great opportunity to target new victims. Public connections are often poorly protected and easily accessed by criminals.
Alternatively, bad actors can set up their own router and give it an innocuous name like “Free train Wi-fi”. As soon as a commuter unthinkingly connects to the network, their private data can be exposed.
When you use a VPN, your internet traffic gets encrypted, so no one can intercept it via public Wi-Fi. VPN secures your connection everywhere, so you no longer need to care about external protection. Cybersnoopers won’t be able to penetrate the wall of encryption and you will stay secure.
What are hackers after when they take advantage of public Wi-Fi? Any and all your personal information. Here are just a few examples of the valuable data you could expose:
And here are just some of the things hackers can do to take advantage of public Wi-Fi:
Enhancing public Wi-Fi with a VPN connection will render all of the above attacks useless. The encryption process effectively shields all your data from prying eyes. While the would-be hacker will be able to see that you are indeed connected to the internet through public Wi-Fi, they won’t be able to see the details of the traffic transmitted.
Estimates say that 81% of Americans use public Wi-Fi hotspots regularly. However, only 1% of Americans enable a VPN to enhance their security while on public networks. The number of people using a VPN when connected to Wi-Fi is slightly higher in France (2%) and Germany (6%).
Surprisingly, almost half of Americans surveyed believe that public Wi-Fi is safe and doesn’t require additional precautions. This is a dangerous attitude and might cause users a lot of trouble in the long run. For those looking to protect themselves after hearing these alarming statistics, take note that some of the worst places you can use public Wi-Fi are big public coffee shops or restaurants, airports and hotels. The more people that have access to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, the higher the risk of danger.
Yes, a public Wi-Fi provider can potentially see your browsing history. It’s not a given because it depends on the router they are using. But modern Wi-Fi routers keep logs – what domains you visited and for how long. And if you browsed in a webpage without proper TLS/SSL encryption, they would also log the exact pages you read and the information you entered.
On mobile devices, it gets even more complicated. The Wi-Fi owner can see who you called or texted online, which apps you used, and for how long.
While most public Wi-Fi hotspots won't be sophisticated enough to block VPNs, some internet service providers can use an IP lookup tool to find the physical location on the VPN server, then use a firewall to block that IP address. Luckily, NordVPN has thousands of other servers to choose from, so the solution is just to pick a different server.
The main way to prevent any hackers breaking into your devices and intruding your internet connection via a public network is to educate yourself. Once you’re aware of the risks that face you, you’ll also be up-to-date with how to prevent them. Here are the things you need to remember:
With so many VPN service providers out there, it’s hard to make the correct choice. Here a few aspects to pay attention when choosing a VPN:
So, the best choice would be to buy a subscription service – you know exactly what you’ll be getting for the money you pay. Here’s what you get with NordVPN: